A Word

The Marathon Diaries: by Jacqueline Alexander
First published on Sir Steve Redgrave's website

As a twenty-a-day smoker with little inclination to visit the gym, Jacqueline Alexander could only be considered a PUP (Pathetically Unfit Person). Sir Steve Redgrave, on the other hand, was a five time Olympic Gold medallist and remained a fit and healthy athlete even though his rowing career had ceased six years earlier. Embarking on the same challenge, Steve and Jacqueline decided to compare notes as they trained for one of the most famous races in the world.

Sir Steve Redgrave and Jacqueline Alexander in training for the London Marathon

Jacqueline's diary:

The phone rings. As is customary, I light a cigarette before I answer. The voice at the other end of the phone calmly announces that I have been given a place to run in the London Marathon. I laugh.

Actually, I giggle. I am forced to note in my diary that my quest to complete the London Marathon begins with a cigarette and a nervous giggle.

As the call ends, the reality begins to hit home. I have twelve weeks to get fit enough to complete the London Marathon. My starting point is worrying. I find myself starting to jog on the spot. I glance at the clock. Can I jog for five minutes? One minute passes. I am ok. Three minutes pass. I haven't passed out, this is promising. Five minutes. I am still going, can I possibly make ten minutes? Good grief. I can do this. I run a full ten minutes. I need a reward.

I smoke a cigarette.

Sir Steve Redgrave and Jacqueline Alexander

Heartened by my initial success, I take to the internet and google 'marathon training'. The first site I stumble across tells me I should already be running 25 miles per week. I haven't even walked 25 miles in a week - ever! I seek better news and refine my search terms to "marathon training first time". Success. I have found a site that says I can rest three days a week. I like that.

I call my Mum to tell her the good news. "People die running that race," comes the cheery response. I reassure Mum that I am not going to be running shoulder-to-shoulder with Nell McAndrew or stopping for a pee with Paula Radcliffe, I am simply aiming to finish in a reasonable time and enjoy the experience as much as possible. Mum remains unconvinced.

I wonder how many cigarettes I can smoke between now and Sunday - my designated giving-up day. I plan to stay up very late on Saturday to maximise my chances of smoking a little more. I know I have a bad attitude but that is about to change. And so is my life!

Next: The dreaded treadmill

Sir Steve's diary:

There is no hiding from the truth anymore. It's time for me to hold my hands up and confess. I am just the same as you... and you... and you...

If you started the New Year with the determination to adhere to a strict routine of exercise and healthy living, and you've stuck with it, then I am not like you! I am with the rest of the population who kicked-off 2006 with good intentions and an optmistic outlook.

Now we're at the end of January, I am searching for that elusive discipline and inspiration to get started.

Last November, in a moment of clarity, I decided it was time to start my training programme for the London Marathon. I made a commitment to run for 30 minutes everyday. For two weeks I kept my promise, until the demands of my diary starting interferring.

View the original diaries at Sir Steve Redgrave's website

After years of hating a daily training routine - correction, daily training regime - I couldn't wait to leave it behind me. Now, nearly six years on, it's a routine I miss. Each day in my diary is completely different - a different place, a different time, different people and a different project. No sooner than I get an exercise pattern going, it becomes impossible to maintain.

I console myself that with my sporting background and having already run two marathons, I may just have a head start but it would be foolhardy to rely on that. I need to find a way of exercising regularly whilst having the flexibility to adhere to the plan, albeit a loose one. It's not too late. I have just retrieved Richard Nerurkar's book on marathon running from my bookshelf and he assures me that I can go from zero to hero in 12 weeks.

Knowing I can't commit to running everyday, I decide I can have two rest days. I can't guarantee these will be the same days in each week of my programme but I can go forward knowing that if I have a day off, the plan isn't ruined. Psychologically, this helps because if I start a routine I have to stick with it. Once it's broken, it's a lost cause so the trick is to design a routine that cannot be broken.

So it's decided, two days off, four runs of 30-40 minutes and one long run starting at one hour and building up to three hours.

Excellent, I have a plan.

Next: The dreaded treadmill

by Jacqueline Alexander
Copyright 2012

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